By Kris Leonhardt
CENTRAL WISCONSIN — Although homelessness is not always visible on the streets of central Wisconsin, the struggle for some remains.
The North Central Wisconsin Continuum of Care Region reported that 571 homeless clients were served in 2019 (latest available numbers).
Agencies in central Wisconsin are reporting increased problems, anticipated for some by the COVID environment, and growing concern for the future, with a homeless population expected to double by 2030 – the increase being mostly made up of elderly people.
Homelessness is something Stacey Schultz, Executive Director of the Marshfield Area Community Foundation, continually sees firsthand in the town of Marshfield.
“Working at the community foundation, so homeless people are at the library (next door.) They hang around there and they wait for them to open so they have a place to sit and get out of the cold,” Schultz explained.
“What I’ll do a lot is say if they’re waiting outside, ‘the community center is open.’ I offer them a cup of coffee; it’s the least we can do.
“So when I start talking to them and when they start showing up for a few days, I try to get to know them a bit. Or I’m like, ‘Hey, could you use one of those tote bags? back ?’ she said, referring to St. Vincent de Paul’s Badger packs for the homeless.
“And then what happens is just being nice they come to me like the guy came to me and asked if he could use my copier.
At this point, Schultz tries to assess where the individual is in life.
“They may not be homeless, but often they are and often there are mental health (problems) as well. But you don’t want to assume anything,” she added.
“What I’m going to do is I’m going to sit down with somebody, and I’m going to say, you know, you just need a few things, you just have to walk to St. Vincent de Paul. I say “it’s right behind Kwik Trip, and while you’re there, if you need help with accommodation, you should ask Ted at North Central Community Action”.
“So I’ll try to figure out what they need and Tricia (in St. Vincent de Paul) has a spreadsheet, like do you need accommodation, call this number; if you need it, call this number. And it’s good; but again, with this gentleman, I was like sending him to city hall because he needed W-2 help. And then, I send them to Saint-Vincent de Paul if he needs food.
“So I just feel like we’re sending people into his pockets. And they barely make it through the day.
“(They) have ‘housing first’ in Ohio and the concept of housing first is that you give them a place to live. And then you get them case management, and then you worry about everything else. Because if you know you have a place to live, you can focus more on getting a job, getting mental health services, and getting whatever you want. So we don’t have that here.
‘Housing First’ emerged as an alternative to an approach in which homeless people were required to participate in short-term residential/treatment programs before obtaining permanent housing. Under the first approach, permanent housing was offered only after the homeless person could demonstrate that they were “housing ready”.
Housing First prioritizes the provision of permanent housing to homeless people, giving them a ‘platform’ to improve their quality of life. This provides the basic necessities before dealing with issues of job security, budgeting, and substance.
A concept that Trisha Hebert, director of St. Vincent de Paul-Marshfield Outreach, employs with the limited resources at her disposal.
“What are your immediate needs at the moment, so if it’s housing we try to find a hotel for a few days, and I say a few days because we haven’t been able to book hotels for a long time because they are so full,” Hébert explained.
“This is our first step – let’s try to get rid of the biggest barrier right now, then try to come up with a plan. What’s your plan of action? If we find you temporary accommodation for a few days, what are you going to do in that time?
“Often it’s mental health, often it’s employment – I’m waiting for a job offer, but it’s holding me back.
Hebert said most of the time, affordable housing in the community is already full, so permanent arrangements are harder to deal with. But, it can provide a hub for resources.
“If we can’t have a hub, give them the direct phone number so they can call; they can use our phones or whatever, so they can call and get the answers before they make that trip,” she added.
But shame and embarrassment often prevent homeless people from seeking help.
“They don’t want to be discovered or seen,” Hebert explained.
And even if they ask for help, sometimes it’s not enough, no matter how hard local organizations try to help them, which the North Central Community Action and St. Vincent de Paul Outreach programs experienced last December. .
“This individual, we worked with them; we helped them. North Central Community Action helped him. There was an underlying situation of substance and alcohol abuse. They had been helped many, many times. I went there on a Saturday…entered the building. I was there maybe half an hour and walked out,” Hebert recalls.
“We had a huge snowstorm that night; it was like the worst snowstorm in december. I went back the next morning…in broad daylight. I thought I saw a pair of shoes.
Since the shoes were bright orange and the snow had been cleared away, Hébert thought they must be road construction cones caught in the snow.
“We have road cones so people understand our process of passing through,” she explained.
On Monday morning, Hebert received a call informing him that an individual had been found behind the building.
Going through video footage with the police department, Hebert realized that the deceased person would have been there when she pulled over.
“We tried to help as much as we could. I don’t know what we could have done differently,” she said.
“We can’t want it more than them.”
Emerging state aids
On September 28, Governor Tony Evers announced an additional $500,000 for homeless case management services through the state’s shelter grant program and $1.2 million for Safe Shelter and Homelessness Grants, to assist homeless residents and those who serve them during the winter months.
In 2021, $6 million was invested in Safe Shelter and Homelessness Grants for shelters and shelters for homeless youth and runaways.
The Evers administration also announced that week that more than 48,000 households had received assistance from Wisconsin’s Emergency Rental Assistance (WERA) program, exceeding $200 million in rent and utility payments. public across the state. The federally funded WERA program provides up to 18 months of financial assistance for current and late payments of rent and utilities, including water, electricity, gas and internet.
The WERA program was announced in February 2021 and is administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and funded by the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program through the United States Department of Treasury.
The WERA program is open to Wisconsin residents who are at risk of housing instability, who have had their income impacted by COVID-19, and who earn a household income at or below 80% of the county median income. Rent and utility assistance payments are made directly to the landlord or utility provider on behalf of the tenant. More information is available at doa.wi.gov/Pages/WERA.aspx.
Central Wisconsin Resources
One-stop hotline for assistance with food insecurity, housing, elder care, etc. Visit https://211wisconsin.communityos.org/guided-search or call 2-1-1.
United Way of Marathon County
Serves Lincoln, Marathon, Oneida, Portage and Vilas counties. Call 715-848-2255.
Wisconsin Department of Family and Children
Emergency assistance through a one-time payment for low-income parents for emergency housing or utility expenses.
The Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Service
Youth Transitional Living Program. Visit www.wahrs.org/programs.html.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Housing Support Services
Housing and veterans assistance programs. Visit www.lsswis.org or visit the Wisconsin Central Regional Office at 115 N. Sixth Street, Wausau.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Housing Support Services
Provides housing assistance. Visit www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/medicaid/housing-supports.htm.
Local support agencies
Salvation Army Center of Hope, 1600 Briggs Street, Stevens Point
Salvation Army Transitional Living Center, 113 South 2nd Ave., Wausau
Community Warming Centers: 1300 Main Street, Stevens Point; 1421 Churchill Street, Waupaca; 903 N.Third St., Wausau.
Portage County Interfaith Food Pantry, 2810 Post Rd., Plover
Community Thrift Store and Food Pantry, 2124 Rice St., Stevens Point
St. Paul Lutheran Food Pantry, 1919 Wyatt Ave., Stevens Point
Portage County Mobile Pantry, 900 Brilowski Rd., Stevens Point
Salvation Army Center of Hope Pantry, 1600 Briggs Street, Stevens Point
FOCUS, 2511 Eighth St. South, No. 242, Wisconsin Rapids, or call 715-422-2050
Clark County Aging Department Food Pantry, 517 Court St., Room 201, Neillsville, or call 715-743-5166
Clark County Area Food Pantry and Resource Center, 1031 E. Division St., Neillsville, or call 715-743-2885
Operation Bootstrap Crisis Assistance, 5000 Heffron St., Stevens Point
Emergency Services by Portage County Health and Human Services Department, 1224 Strongs Ave., Stevens Point
CAP Services/Family Crisis Center, https://capservices.org or call 800-472-3377
Evergreen Community Initiatives, 1948 Church St., Stevens Point, or call 715-252-7860
LOVE, Inc., South Wood County, 715-424-5883 or https://loveincswc.org/contact
St. Vincent de Paul Outreach, 149 N. Central Ave., Marshfield, or call 715-387-0395
North Central Community Action Program, 2111 Eighth St. South, Suite 102, Wisconsin Rapids, or 715-424-2581 or 149 N. Central Ave., Marshfield, or 715-387-2626